Saturday, December 01, 2012

Illinois-Chicago Takes City Bragging Rights, Shocks Northwestern

Illinois-Chicago 50, Northwestern 44
Illinois-Chicago was ice cold from the field, finishing 2-for-14 behind the arc and with a 32.7 eFG%. Yet they won by taking advantage of Northwestern's putrid rebounding, and because of atypically sloppy ball handling from the Wildcats (16 turnovers on only 62 possessions). UIC's Josh Crittle dominated on both sides of the floor, finishing with 13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals.

It's a little too simplistic to say that by winning Chicago bragging rights UIC will have a dramatic recruiting improvement. After all, Chicago high school recruiting is a swamp of shady AAU and high school coaches, which no college head coach will ever be able to dominate. And UIC isn't stealing recruits from top teams just because they beat Northwestern once. But this win really helps establish the legitimacy of the Howard Moore era at UIC, and should definitely help them close the deal with some recruits they otherwise might not get down the road.

Illinois-Chicago moves to 6-1 with wins over Northwestern and Iona, and their only loss coming to New Mexico. With the Horizon as wide open as it is in the post-Butler era, it's not unreasonable to think UIC could be the conference favorite right now. I won't go that far - Valparaiso is still my pick. But UIC has definitely put themselves into the conversation. The Flames will play a non-Division I school on Wednesday and then a big home game next Saturday against Colorado State.

Northwestern had a nice win over Illinois State, but have now fallen in consecutive games to Maryland and UIC. The only good news is that they still have three more chances to salvage their non-conference slate. They will play at Baylor on Tuesday, and will also get Butler and Stanford at home before starting Big Ten play.

Virginia Tech 81, #15 Oklahoma State 71
Say hello to Erick Green, who was a monster for Virginia Tech here with 28 points, including 4-for-7 behind the arc and 12-for-13 at the free throw line. Green is now up to 24.3 points per game, and could start to get some All-American buzz, particularly with Virginia Tech off to a 7-0 start. I do need to throw a little bit of cold water on this Va Tech start, though. The reality is that this win, over an overrated Oklahoma State team, is by far their best of the season. Even after this victory I expect all of their computer ratings to be outside of the Top 50.

Oklahoma State will feel like they were undone by horrible shooting here, and they will probably be right. Phil Forte came into this game having hit 11 of 22 three-point attempts this season, only to hit 1-for-10 today. As a team, OSU hit only 4-for-23 behind the arc.

Oklahoma State will try to bounce back on Wednesday against South Florida, and then shouldn't be particularly troubled by their schedule until they face Gonzaga on December 31st. Virginia Tech will try to keep this hot start going next Saturday during their first tough road game, at West Virginia.

Iowa State 83, BYU 62
I'm not sure what the excuse from BYU is for this performance, but they did not play well at all. BYU hit 20% of their threes, 44% of their twos, 59% of their free throws and committed 17 turnovers. In all, they finished with 0.78 PPP, their worst offensive performance since they were wiped out by UNLV 70-41 on January 15, 2008.

Iowa State's defense is good, but BYU's offense has been surprisingly poor all season. One of the weirder problems has been poor outside shooting, considering all of the weapons that they have. Matt Carlino's shooting struggles to start the season have been brutal (he's 3-for-22 on threes so far), and they are also really struggling as a teto get offensive rebounds. When you aren't hitting outside shots and aren't getting offensive boards, you can get into a vicious cycle of brick-and-out possessions. BYU has seemingly been in that cycle all season long, and it's why they've lost to all three quality opponents that they've played thus far.

BYU will play at home against Utah State on Wednesday, and then Utah next Saturday. They cannot afford any more bad losses if they're going to stay in a good position for an at-large bid. Iowa State now has their first quality win of the season, after back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and UNLV. They will play Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday, and then a tough rivalry game on Friday at Iowa.

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